Unknowingly Quoting Shakespeare

You don’t have to read the Bard to quote the Bard

11/2/2016 4:51:59 PM
written By : Staff Reporter Print

You don’t have to know Shakespeare to quote him. Every day, we quote Shakespeare, without even knowing we are using his words.  He has become part and parcel of our language. Scholars have estimated he coined 1,700 words. Many of the words we use are traced back to his poems and plays. There are no records of others before him using words such as academe, accessible, addiction, amazement, arch-villain, assassination, auspicious, barefaced, baseless, batty, belongings, birthplace, bloodstained, blood-sucking, blusterer, bold-faced, bubble, bump. And those are only words beginning with the first two letters of the alphabet. Run through the rest of the alphabet and you will find more words handed down by Shakespeare.

As good luck would have it, he was a genius or we would be at a loss for words. There in one sentence are two phrases first found in Shakespeare. “Foregone conclusion” is from Othello and “as good luck would have it” from The Merry Wives of Windsor. “But this denoted a foregone conclusion,” Othello tells Iago (Act 3, Scene 3). “As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page,” says Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act 3, Scene 5).

It’s neither here nor there – it’s not terribly important – whether you know your Shakespeare or not. The world is your oyster – you can do anything you want, go anywhere you like –  as long as you are a wiz at science or technology. There again we have two phrases first found in Shakespeare. “’Tis neither here nor there,” says Emilia to Desdemona in Hamlet (Act 4, Scene 3). When Falstaff says, “I will not lend thee a penny”, Pistol replies, “Why then the world’s mine oyster,/ Which I with sword will open” in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act 2, Scene 2). 

True, some of Shakespeare’s phrases sound old-fashioned, like “the world’s mine oyster”. That was more likely to be used in this writer’s salad days, when he was young. “Salad days”, meaning when one was young, is another phrase first found in Shakespeare.  “My salad days,/ When I was green in judgment,” Cleopatra recalls, talking to her attendant, Charmian, in Antony and Cleopatra (Act 1, Scene 5). “Salad days” sounds old-fashioned, too: people now are more likely to talk and write about salad bars, salad dressings and salad oils.

But there are plenty of Shakespeare phrases that continue to be widely used.  Fans watch football matches and plaintiffs and defendants await court judgments with “bated breath” – an expression used by Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.  “With bated breath and whispering humbleness,/ Say this,” he tells Antonio (Act 1, Scene 3). Fans, of course, are up in arms if their team plays badly or the referee’s decision goes against them. “Up in arms” – that’s another phrase first found in Shakespeare: “The commons here in Kent are up in arms,” the captain tells the Earl of Suffolk in Henry VI, Part 2 (Act 4, Scene 1).  Any player who plays badly is likely to be sent packing – taken off the field and benched, and later maybe even dropped from the team. This expression also goes back to Shakespeare. When Prince Henry doesn’t want to meet a visitor, Falstaff says, “I’ll send him packing” in Henry IV, Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4).

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